May 17, 2009
By Serene Luo
Barbecues sound about right at this hot time of the year. Here are books that might inspire you to throw more than chicken wings and hot dogs on the barbie.
THE ASIAN BARBECUE BOOK
By Alex Skaria
Periplus Editions/2009/ Hardcover/
176 pages/ $48.15/All major bookstores
I enjoyed reading the introduction about basic barbecuing techniques and tools. I never knew there is so much science in the art of barbecuing.
For instance, it explains that an inch-thick steak should be placed on a grill two inches above the embers, while a 2-inch-thick steak should be on a grill about 3 to 4 inches above the embers. This is so that your food will get cooked all the way through, without the outer layer being reduced to ash.
There are also pictures of different grill systems and fuel, though most people are likely to settle for the most common fire pit and charcoal.
I was also impressed by the details. The book has diagrams of where the different cuts of meat are found on the animal and describes how long each is needed to be cooked and at what temperature.
The recipes are quite different and exotic from regular barbecue fare. I decided to make chicken yakitori (Japanese skewer grill) and teriyaki tofu skewers.
The tofu barbecue dish was a pleasant surprise. It turned out sweet, savoury and light, compared to the heavier meats one usually grills. I did not try the desserts but they look scrumptious and boast an exotic twist. For instance, fruit skewers are basted with a mint and ginger mixture, while a honeydew melon is grilled and drizzled with a lavender-infused honey.
A few brickbats, though. The photographer used a lens with such a shallow depth of field that readers may feel that some pictures are a little out of focus. Also, the quantity of sauces or marinades are not enough to cover the meats. My advice: Double the quantities.
By Amanda Bishop (editor)
Bay Books/2008/ Paperback/
112 pages/ $5.95/Borders
I always thought of the barbecue as an American or Australian hobby and the recipes in this book seem to echo that.
There are a lot fewer Asian- type flavours compared to the first book, so it is ideal for people hankering after good ol' fashioned fare.
I liked that every recipe has a photograph and some come with smaller, explanatory pictures. The editor also tells us that every dish is tried out in its test kitchen and it shows.
For example, when I tried the Thai Marinated Fish, there was a line that told readers to watch out for how the fish skin may stick to the flatplate's surface during cooking. It described what to do in case that happened. Sure enough, it did happen and I was grateful for the heads-up.
Recipes in this book also call for a lot of marinating and I like the fact that it says upfront how many hours the food would need to be marinated, instead of leaving it to the reader's whim.
Flavour-wise, my family found the fish, which was stuffed with coriander and scallions, quite different from the heavy taste normally associated with this method of cooking. The skin and meat had a delightfully smoky taste, while the stuffing was deliciously spicy.
Many of the recipes also make use of fruit, such as the Ginger-Orange Pork Steaks and the Lamb Burger made with mango.
While the book includes side dishes, such as pasta salad and a flan dessert, they are not cooked on the grill, which just is not as fun for a party.
A side note: I love it that the book cost me just $5.95. So when when my greasy, charcoal-dusted fingers stained the pages, I did not cringe.
KING OF THE Q'S BLUE PLATE BBQ
By Ted Reader
Penguin Group/2007/ Paperback/
272 pages/ $44.95/Borders
I read the entire book in one sitting because, not only does Ted Reader make barbecuing fun with his personal, bubbly tone, he is also extremely witty and funny.
You can sense the enthusiasm of the chef, cookbook author and TV host, who writes a personal statement about every dish, be it about 'ludicrous' burgers that once fetched $1,500 at a charity cook-off or how some of his sandwiches are often so crammed full of ingredients, they 'overflow'.
He also has some kooky ideas. For instance, he opens a can of beer and stuffs it into the bottom of a chicken, which he then sticks on a closed grill. It gives the chicken a wonderful 'boozy' flavour as the beer seeps into the meat, he says. He uses the same technique with soda pop and Red Bull too. Sounds like great party tricks, albeit a little too experimental for my tastes.
I made his Grilled Oyster Mushrooms, which was easy to prepare. I was a little doubtful about balsamic vinegar in the marinade but it gave the mushrooms an interesting twang.
Still, his simple writing style is deceptive. Some recipes involve a lot of work. Almost every recipe requires one of his dry rubs, pastes or marinades, which requires an average of eight to 10 ingredients that may not be so easy to get on short notice.
The good news is that some of his rubs, such as his Bonedust Seasoning Rub or Better Butter Burger Seasoning Rub, can be stored and are used in many of the recipes. I would, however, go easy on the chilli and paprika powder - he seems to have a thing for spicy food.
This book concentrates mostly on the food, not the type of grill or techniques needed.
He assumes you can get a fire going on your own and so does not delve into the details.